As public opinion dramatically turns against the nearly century-long war on marijuana, even longtime prohibitionist holdouts are beginning to soften their views.
In a survey published last week assessing the opinions of more than 11,000 sworn law enforcement officers, nearly half (47 percent) expressed support for some level of marijuana legalization. (Thirty-six percent of respondents favored legalizing pot socially while an additional 11 percent of police officers endorsed permitting the plant’s medical use.) While these percentages of support still lag well behind those of by the general public -- some 58 percent of whom believe that cannabis should be legal for everyone, and some 85 percent of whom support its therapeutic use -- they represent a significant shift in opinion among the demographic that is typically the most visible and vocal supporter of the drug war.
Nonetheless, reefer madness still continues to exist among the majority of law enforcement officers. According to the poll, 63 percent of cops believe that criminal penalties should remain in place for pot possession (versus only 22 percent of the general public, according to a nationwide Pew poll released just one day earlier.) And only 26 percent of police officers agree with the notion that commercial quantities of weed should “legalized, regulated, and taxed.”
Moreover, most cops presume that legalizing or even decriminalizing cannabis will lead to a host of adverse societal outcomes, most of which are dubious at best. For instance, 77 percent responded that liberalizing pot penalties will lead to more “intoxicated motorists on the road.” Sixty-one percent said “more of the US population would become addicted” to pot. And perhaps most inexplicably, 57 percent of cops claimed that mitigating pot penalties would lead to an increase in domestic abuse. (Cannabis consumption, unlike alcohol, has time and time again been associated with a decrease in aggressive behavior and intimate partner violence.)
Yet, because members of law enforcement continue to hold a disproportionate amount of influence among state and federal lawmakers -- many of which are ex-members of law enforcement themselves -- it remains critical that reform advocates continue to try and educate this community. And while the results of last week’s poll indicate that reformers, particularly LEAP, have made significant progress in influencing cops’ opinions, it is clear that far more work needs to be done before a majority of police officers join with the majority of the general public in advocating for an end to the war on cannabis consumers.